A few years ago I was asked to speak at the launch of the ultimate bad sex guide, 50 Shades of Grey. Now, I appreciate it may seem strange to ask a financial advisor to speak about money before a film that is almost completely about sex. Perhaps you’re thinking I was the metaphorical bucket of cold water.
Whatever the reason, I was so glad to be asked.
Not because I wanted to watch 50 Shades of Grey. I still haven’t read the book and wouldn’t have watched the movie if left to my own devices. Not because I’m a prude. I simply object to bad storylines. After all, if I’m going to fill a sneaky few hours with sex, I’d rather fill it with sex and fashion by watching an episode of Sex and the City, or sex and laughter by listening to a podcast of My Dad Wrote a Porno. Sex and awkwardness while sitting in a dark theatre with fifty others, watching Christian Grey earnestly spank someone, just doesn’t appeal to me. Strangely.
So why was I so happy to speak before a movie I felt so uncomfortable about?
Because of the connection between sex and money.
Once upon a time sex had an almighty ‘ick’ factor associated with it. Sex simply wasn’t a subject that was talked about in polite company. Nice girls didn’t talk about it – and they certainly didn’t own up to wanting more of it. Thanks to Sex and the City and other television series, books, magazines and movies that dealt with it irreverently and cleverly, it gradually became OK to talk about sex. Not just over cocktails (when you hoped you wouldn’t remember the conversation in the morning), but suddenly it’s OK to talk blowjobs over brunch.
Somehow the ick factor was removed from sex because the shame was lifted. Simply by bringing the subject into the light of day and talking (and laughing) about it.
Fast forward to me, an accountant and money expert, talking financial fairy-tales to a bunch of women (and some poor blokes) who had flocked to watch a movie that was unashamedly about sex.
I, for one, would love money to be given the same treatment.
Now some might argue it already has. The movie The Wolf of Wall Street certainly idolised money, and there have been many books and films both before and since where the making of money has been lauded.
But what about the vulnerability associated with money? What about the shame?
What about the ick factor, which means we aren’t prepared to have those awkward money conversations (which is most money conversations that don’t involve property prices if we’re completely honest)? So, we don’t ask a girlfriend during a long lunch if she’s racking up a large credit card bill because she seems to be doing a little too much emotional spending. We don’t want to cause offence by asking a beloved relative whose husband has passed away if she is going to be able to pay the bills. And we don’t talk about exactly how much we want our business to net a profit, because we don’t want to be judged.
I’ve found myself in all three financial scenarios and I’m sure you can relate to at least one of them. The question I have for you is, did you speak up? If not, why?
I can answer that for you. It’s the reason why for at least one of those situations I said nothing. We still feel awkward, uncomfortable and impolite talking about money.
Which is exactly why we need to start having real conversations about finances.
I met with a good friend to talk about her business. I think she beautifully described why we don’t talk about money. At our very first meeting it quickly became clear she felt she wasn’t in a great place financially and was extremely embarrassed about it. She told me she felt incredibly vulnerable about coming to see me – and gave me a long explanation as to why that was, before she even began to talk about finances. She even told me that she’d cancelled the appointment twice and had been tempted to cancel again. Eventually, we were about to get started. She stopped, grabbed my arm and said, “I feel like I’m about to get naked.”
Her choice of words and her vulnerability capture why I was so pleased to be invited to speak before a movie that was all about sex.
The reason so many women leave the lights off in the bedroom to have sex is the same reason we’re also leaving the lights off on our finances. We’re ashamed that someone will see and judge us.
And, often, even we don’t want to acknowledge the mess we’re in. Which means yes, I know some of you aren’t even opening bank statements or other financial correspondence you don’t feel comfortable with!
If you can’t look at something or talk about something, it’s going to have an almighty ick factor attached to it. Which is exactly what’s happening with money.
Part of the reason I believe we’re so vulnerable and feel so icky about money is because of the extremes associated with it.
If you don’t have enough money, if you’re not earning what you think you should be, or if you have too much debt, there can be enormous shame involved. Perhaps it’s because we worry what people will think of us if they see the financial mess we’re in. Or perhaps we don’t think we’re earning enough to keep up appearances for the suburb we live in, the school our kids go to, or the people we associate with. Whatever the reason, we’re ashamed because of our perceived deficit.
Or perhaps it’s more to do with the opposite extreme.
While it seems to be quite acceptable for men to say they want more money, is it OK for a woman to say she wants to be financially successful and wealthy? Particularly if, say, like me, she has chosen not to have a family? Or if she is a working mother? Does that make her selfish somehow, or less feminine? Is there judgement involved with women wanting to have more money, in the same way that, pre-Samantha, women might have felt about coming out and saying they enjoyed sex and wanted more of it?
Or if you’re a man and your wife is earning more than you, does that make you feel less of a man? Or just if your mates found out? What about if you chose to stay home and look after the kids for a year? Do the (mainly) women at the school ground think less of you because you’re not a provider?
At the end of the day one thing is clear – even if we’re not talking about money, there’s a whole lot of judgement involved.
Which is why we may as well talk about it.
I believe we need to acknowledge the vulnerability and awkwardness involved with talking about money and have the conversation anyway. To begin talking about all facets of money, not just the socially acceptable parts like buying property – and by talking about it, remove the ickiness.
So rather than talking over coffee or cocktails about your latest sexual adventures, why not move on to talking about money: your goals, your dreams, how you’re going with them and where you’re really at. It’s time to turn on the light in the bedroom and remove the ick factor from one of the last remaining taboos: money.
Or at the very least, get financially naked and take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Acknowledge your situation today for what it is. Perhaps it’s not something you’re proud of – but is it something you’re prepared to work on?
I mean, for f#ck’s sake, let’s just get over ourselves and start adulting when it comes to money.